What is made possible? People working in different functions and disciplines can quickly improve how they ask each other for what they need to be successful. You can mend misunderstandings or dissolve prejudices developed over time by demystifying what group members need in order to achieve common goals. Since participants articulate core needs to others and each person involved in the exchange is given the chance to respond, you boost clarity, integrity, and transparency while promoting cohesion and coordination across silos: you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again!
Five Structural Elements – Min Specs
1. Structuring Invitation
- Invite participants to ask for what they need from others (often in different functions or disciplines) to be successful in reaching a specific goal
- Invite them also to respond unambiguously to the requests from others
2. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed
- Large room to accommodate 3 to 7 functional clusters of participants in different sections
- Chairs for a group of 3 to 7 people to sit in a circle in the middle of the room
- Paper for participants to record needs and responses
3. How Participation Is Distributed
- Everyone is included in his or her functional cluster
- Everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute
4. How Groups Are Configured
- Three to 7 functional clusters (no limit on number of participants in each cluster)
- One group of 3 to 7 spokespersons to speak on behalf of each functional cluster
5. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation
- Explain the process by describing the steps below. Reiterate the goal or challenge being addressed to make sure that the context is the same for all. Emphasize that requests must be clear and specific if they are to receive an unambiguous yes or no response. Make it clear that no answers other than yes, no, I will try, and whatever will be allowed. Position the functional clusters around the room. 3 min.
- Functional clusters use 1-2-4-All (or 1-2-All) to make a list of their top needs from each of the other functions in the room. Needs are expressed as requests that can be delivered with care and nuance in the following form: “What I need from you is _____.” Clusters reduce their lists to two top needs, write these down in their expected form, and select a spokesperson to represent the cluster. 5–15 min.
- All spokespersons gather in a circle in the middle of the room.
- One by one, spokespersons state their two needs to each of the other spokespersons around the circle. At this stage, spokespersons take notes of requests, but no one gives answers or responses. 15 min.
- Working individually (or by conferring with others in their functional cluster), each spokesperson writes down one of four responses to each request: yes, no, I will try, or whatever (whatever means the request was too vague to provide a specific answer). 5–10 min.
- Addressing one spokesperson in the group at a time, every spokesperson in the circle repeats the requests made by him or her, then shares his or her responses (yes, no, I will try, or whatever). No discussion! No elaboration! 10 min.
- Debrief with What, So What, Now What? 15 min.
- Learn how to articulate functional and/or personal needs clearly
- Practice asking for what functions and/or individuals need
- Learn how to give clear answers to requests
- Reestablish and/or improve communication inside functional clusters
- Make progress across functional silos
- Mend connections that have been broken
- Get all the issues out on the table at the same time for everyone to see
- Reduce frustration by eliminating preconceptions and rumors
- Build trust so that group members can share accountability with integrity
Tips and Traps
- Remind participants that a whatever response means their request was too vague to provide a specific answer
- Strictly enforce the “no immediate response” rule
- Strictly enforce the rule that the only responses are yes, no, I will try, or whatever(no further elaboration is allowed)
- Encourage everyone to ask for what they truly need to be successful
- Have fun and encourage a safe amount of drama
- Don’t include more than 7 roles/functions (the waters get too muddy)
- In debriefing, try to draw out that people are good at complaining and not so good at asking for what they need. WINFY helps you move from complaints to valid requests.
- Use question-and-response cards to help groups sharpen how they express their requests
Riffs and Variations
- Consider a second round if too much appears to be unresolved or unclear: making concrete and clear requests is an essential skill!
- In the debrief, give participants a chance to articulate what was not asked of them: something neglected that would help achieve the groups’ purpose but was not requested
- Instead of functional clusters, use the same WINFY sequence with a group or a team of individuals who are interdependent
- String together with Helping Heuristics, Integrated~Autonomy, Appreciative Interviews, Ecocycle
- For a global technical group (with members in multiple countries) facing the need to make decisions in a fast-changing market (see “Getting Commitment, Ownership, and Follow-Through” in Part Three: Stories from the Field).
- For three top executives who are struggling to give consistent direction to the next level of leaders in the organization
- For hospital executives and managers launching a patient-centered care initiative that requires multi-specialty collaboration
- For helping one-on-one relationships become more generative
Attribution: Liberating Structure developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. Inspired by consultant Kathie Dannemiller and professor Dan Pesut.